Playing A Game The Way The Developer Intended

A lot of games include settings or are easy to mod to allow us to create an experience to suit our needs. These games are considered to be more user-friendly. We can develop set ideas for what good usability is; When I think about it I imagine a game with great tutorials, clear goals/directions and lots of settings. However, we can confuse usability with other features, such as difficulty (see ‘The Usability of Bloodborne‘ on Player Research.) Some games limit the number of settings we have, as if the developer is telling us to play it their way or no way at all. This can alienate some, but I think there are times when it can be justified.

Games don’t have to appeal to everybody (see ‘There’s a Game For Everyone.’) In fact, it’d be impossible to please everybody with one game, and any attempt to do so can result in watered down experiences. I always remember the words of J. R. R. Tolkien in regards to this; at the start of Lord Of The Rings he explains that some parts of his book really appealed to some while they were the least favourite parts of others, but all was required for the complete whole. I like a lot of game developers that are specialised; If you like the one thing they’re good at then you’ll love their games, but otherwise the experience will probably fail to hit the spot. For example, there are those that consider mechanics to be more important and those that enjoy games for the story. A game might have great mechanics, but they can feel like an obstruction to the story for anyone with the latter preference. For the former the story can feel like fluff slowing them down from accessing the meat of the game. There are some excellent examples of games where the develpers have chosen to focus on one (For example, To The Moon has a great story, but simple mechanics.)

If we’re not careful we can develop rules that we feel every game should abide by, and this can close us off to any exception. I don’t think design is so clear with what’s right and wrong. There are guidelines that have been proven to offer more satisfying experiences, but trends can change over time. When I contemplate the design choices in a game, I think about if it works for the intended core experience and audience, not just on how it compares to other games. Different games have different goals for the type of experience they want to create. One feature might work brilliantly in one title and yet fall flat in another due to how it compliments the experience. We can accidentally confuse flaws and preferences too. Game design is an iterative process that can go through multiple play-test sessions to get it right. Most games are neither good or bad, but contain some good parts and bad. They could be improved by further iteration, but developers only have so much time, budget and skill to work with. All games contain flaws that even the developers themselves can admit to (they’re very complex systems afterall.) Most decisions are made in respect to the intended experience (they might have tested a tonne of ideas before settling), but if that doesn’t appeal to you then it’s either a preference or a failure of the game to set expectations correctly. I think this is why fans can be very protective when suggestions are made for changing features of an experience as if they’re flaws. It’s possible that if the games I liked were changed to have mass appeal they’d no longer be the experiences I love.

We don’t all know what our preferences are until giving something a go. It’s through new experiences that we can discover new joys in life. For example, Dark Souls is a game about death and decay, and this ominous experience is created through its aesthetics, story and the difficulty. It’s arguable that if this game was easy we’d be able to rush through and be far less engaged with the feeling this experience is meant to create. Some might want to play for the story and lore alone, but story and mechanics are not always mutually exclusive (they can compliment each other to set the feel of the world, in which the lore and story take place.) They could have still included an easier setting and left hard on as default, but many of us would have turned it down before discovering that we can enjoy difficulty. Dark Souls has had a massive impact on my gaming tastes by teaching me that being patient enough to stick out difficulty can be very rewarding in the long run. We can also relate to each other’s experience better because we know we’ve taken the exact same journey, and this can help to grow communities that love to share advice on how to play.

I’ve noticed that many players have preferences for certain settings and will go to the options menu as the first thing they do on starting a new game; This is before they even understand what the game is about. By messing with the settings it’s possible that we’ll end up with a less than satisfactory experience instead of the finely balanced one that it was meant to be. This risks creating a bad first impression of the game. For example, in Don’t Starve you can increase the number of resources in the world, but I personally find that it takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the game; It’s learning to master the goal of not starving that keeps it engaging as an experience (see ‘How To Deal With Stress While Playing A Game.’) We wouldn’t question if a work of art needed to be observed in correct lighting or from a certain angle to give the right impression – I once had to lay on the floor of an art gallery -, and neither should we question all games. They could choose to only include settings that they know for sure will not impede on the experience, but it still won’t please everybody. It’s possible that there are certain types of experience that we’ll just never be able to appreciate regardless of how much control we can have over them.

In most mainstream games I do consider it to be really important to allow users some level of control over the experience; Particularly with people that have disabilities. I’ve previously spoken to people that have trouble with reflex times and hand-eye coordination, and being able to tweak the game to require less precision on timings would be incredibly beneficial for them. I do think that unfortunately it’ll be difficult to create every game to be modified in this way depending on the type of experience they’re trying to create. Admittedly, I admire developers that aren’t afraid to take risks even though it could leave some feeling alienated. This approach can push the boundaries of game design and develop new ideas. It doesn’t always work out for the best, but it can be fascinating to see what such developers come up with. Then again, after making a purchase and spending our hard-earned cash, it’s probably fair to expect to be able to use the product however we desire. For me personally, I don’t often modify a game or change the default settings; I want to experience it the way it was meant to be at least once.


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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

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